Select Committee on Work and Pensions Written Evidence

Memorandum submitted by ConstructionSkills


  1.1  ConstructionSkills is the Sector Skills Council for the construction industry—a partnership between CITB-ConstructionSkills, the Construction Industry Council and CITB Northern Ireland. It is UK-wide and represents the whole industry from professional consultancies to major contractors and SMEs. Established as a Sector Skills Council in 2003, ConstructionSkills is working to deliver a safe, professional and fully qualified construction workforce.

  ConstructionSkills has a leading role in:

    —    providing sector skills intelligence;

    —    defining the skills strategy for the sector—including a sector qualifications strategy;

    —    increasing employer engagement in skills and training;

    —    skills and training brokerage; and

    —    facilitating and leading skills and training delivery.

  1.2  ConstructionSkills provides assistance in all aspects of recruiting, training and qualifying the construction workforce across the UK. It works with partners in industry and Government to improve the competitiveness of the industry as a whole, representing industry before Government to ensure it has fit-for-purpose qualifications, training and funding.

  1.3  CITB-ConstructionSkills is the construction industry's Industry Training Board and has levy raising powers. It helps the industry in England, Scotland and Wales in all aspects of recruiting, training and qualifying the construction workforce, and supports this by providing CITB-ConstructionSkills Grant.


  2.1  Construction is a fragmented industry that needs to significantly improve its performance in areas such as health and safety, quality and cost over-runs if it is to compete in the long term. ConstructionSkills is giving the industry the business skills and support it needs to grow, and to improve its profitability. Part of its Sector Skills Agreement, established in 2003 with Government and industry, is to increase the number of SMEs (more than 80% of industry) investing in training by 300% and support a culture that endorses lifelong learning in the sector. In response, ConstructionSkills offers a wealth of support, including services, courses and products to help raise awareness of health & safety and reduce the number of accidents in the industry. These include.

2.2  Health and Safety Test

  One of the key ways ConstructionSkills promotes health & safety is through the ConstructionSkills Health and Safety Test. As the industry standard, over 600,000 people booked tests during 2007. It is designed to ensure everybody working in construction has a minimum level of health and safety awareness. Passing the January 2008 test is an essential part of qualifying for the major card schemes such as CSCS and affiliated schemes. By January 2008, 1.5 million Health & Safety Test passes had been achieved.

2.3  Construction Card Schemes

  On behalf of the construction industry, ConstructionSkills delivers the Construction Plant Competence Scheme (CPCS). With over 200,000 individuals either holding or working towards a Level 2 National Vocational Qualification (NVQ) in Plant Operations, it is a major competence based card scheme that meets the guidelines outlined in the recently introduced CDM Regulations. The CPCS cards show that the cardholder is health and safety aware, as all cardholders must pass the appropriate ConstructionSkills Health and Safety Test every five years.

  ConstructionSkills also administers, under contract, the Construction Skills Certification Scheme (CSCS), which covers over 250 occupations including trades, technical, supervisory and management. ConstructionSkills also provides similar services for a number of affiliated schemes covering specific sectors such as scaffolding (CISRS) and demolition (CCDO).

2.4  Site Safety Plus

  The ConstructionSkills' Site Safety Plus Scheme is a comprehensive health and safety training programme designed to give relevant training for appropriate levels of the workforce, ensuring everyone from site operative to senior manager have the skills they need to progress through the industry, creating a safer working environment. The Scheme includes courses ranging from a one-day Health and Safety Awareness course to the five-day Site Management Safety Training Scheme, now in its 28th year. During that time over 100,000 delegates have benefited from this training. All courses are supported by ConstructionSkills publications and training materials.

  ConstructionSkills has recently added the highly successful DWP Jobcentre Plus Achieving Behavioural Change course to the Site Safety Plus Scheme, to extend this best practice to the wider industry.

2.5  Migrant Worker Employer Guidance

  ConstructionSkills has developed an online resource for employers with migrant workers, providing them with guidance to help ensure their workers are qualified, competent and safe—available at This provides information on key areas such as site inductions for migrant workers, awareness of employment laws and support to help keep workers safe on site.


  To help industry respond to the specific changes to Construction Design and Management (CDM) Regulations 2007, the HSE's industry advisory committee, CONIAC, set up a CDM Working Group, chaired by ConstructionSkills' Head of Health, Safety and Environment. This group has coordinated the industryproduced guidance that supports duty holders in implementing the changes to the CDM Regulations 2007. The group's members include representatives from across the whole of construction, from Clients to worker representatives, covering each of the duty holders outlined within the Regulations. ConstructionSkills hosts the guidance for free download on its website.

  The guidance is classified as an established standard by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE). This means that it was developed as a code of practice by representatives working within the sector and should be used to help meet duties outlined in health and safety law.

2.7  Health and Safety learning materials and courses

  ConstructionSkills is the leading provider of Health & Safety publications, and with the National Construction College, its direct training arm, it is also the largest provider of health & safety training in the UK. In 2007 ConstructionSkills sold over 150,000 Health & Safety related publications, including CD-ROMs, DVDs and books. We also provide industry with CITB-ConstructionSkills Grant to all registered employers, this helps support a wide range of training and qualifications, including the ConstructionSkills Health & Safety Test.


  3.  The Major Contractor Group is setting high standards for themselves and their supply chain, which is reflected in a lower proportion of accidents occurring on sites managed by these companies. However, there is still a significant proportion of construction work that is not being managed by these companies and where we do not see any discernable improvement in performance. In 2007, 600,000 people booked for a ConstructionSkills Health & Safety Test and the take up of the training courses, such as those offered as part of the Site Safety Plus suite, were at an all time high.


4.   The legislative framework: Is the health and safety regulatory burden on businesses proportionate?

  In some areas the law needs to go further than it does currently so that it can effect action on specific areas of concern. Where the risk is disproportionately high, there should be specific legislation aimed directly at the problem. An example of this from the recent past is falls from height, which have historically been the single largest cause of death in the construction industry. In the past, general health & safety legislation seemed unable to have a sufficient impact or influence to change this. However, since the introduction of the Work at Heights Regulations, the proportion of people killed by a fall from height has dropped to record low figures.

  In addition, falls from height, being hit by moving vehicles and objects collapsing or overturning are responsible for the majority of fatalities in the industry. These are areas that would benefit from specific, targeted regulation. There is strong evidence, including from the DWP's Jobcentre Plus Programme, that demonstrates that when there is robust adherence to the health & safety legislative requirements, management processes improve with a benefit to profit, quality and delivery of a project.

4.1  Are EU directives interpreted and translated by HSC into UK law appropriately?

  Using the example of the Construction (Design and Management) Regulations, there is evidence that the HSC can try to add too much to regulations written to satisfy the requirements of a particular directive. The introduction of the `Planning Supervisor' to the CDM Regulations in 1994 and the then the "CDM Coordinator" in 2007 is an example of this tendency (although the 2007 Regulations are an improvement). The requirements set out in the Temporary or Mobile Construction Sites (TMCS) Directive (92/57/EEC), which was initially addressed by the 1994 CDM Regulations, do not suggest the need for an additional role. The duties could simply have been given to, say, a "lead" designer for a project, which would have helped with the clarification of duties and encouraged the design community to adopt less of a neutral approach to health and safety. The industry is now trying to address the issue of what level of competence (skill, knowledge, attitude, training and education) is needed for the role of the CDM Co-ordinator.

4.2  Are businesses given appropriate guidance by the HSE on their obligations under health and safety law?

  The HSE does offer businesses appropriate guidance. However, our experience is that this works particularly well when the HSE works with industry, and uses industry organisations as an enabler and a channel. As regulator and enforcer, the HSE are not always naturally embraced by businesses. Having said that, responsible businesses do want assurance that what they are doing has the support and approval of the HSE.

  An excellent example of this was the guidance for the CDM 2007 Regulations, which was written by an industry group led by ConstructionSkills, in its role as Sector Skills Council for the industry. There was unprecedented co-operation, communication and collaboration between leading industry bodies that broadly represented construction clients, designers, CDM Co-ordinators, Principal Contractors, Contractors and Workers. Large construction clients were working alongside union representatives; design institutions were working alongside small builders. The whole process was overseen and enabled by the HSE. What was produced is clear and practical, supported by the industry and the HSE and is available, free of charge, from the ConstructionSkills web-site, as a route to industry. Developing other partnerships such as this between the HSE and industry organisations, would provide opportunities for effective regulation and provision of authoritative information.

4.3  What impact will the Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act (2007) have on businesses' approach to occupational health and safety? Are directors' health and safety duties appropriately covered by voluntary guidance?

  From the cases that have seen successful prosecutions—all of which have been small companies where the individual in charge of operations was not difficult to find—this law will have little impact. Where it will make a difference, however, is in high-profile cases where there has been a breakdown of corporate control and authority which has lead to fatalities, often to members of the public. In the same way that the Work at Height Regulations finally made construction companies look seriously at this as an issue, the Corporate January 2008 Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act (2007) will provide a clear driver for members of the board to take this seriously.

  There is often a misplaced belief amongst middle managers that health and safety is the sole responsibility of the Health & Safety Officer. The Competent Person required under the Management Regulations is there to assist directors and managers and to highlight to them their responsibilities to health and safety. A measure of success of this Act will be when the Health & Safety Team and the Finance Team get equal attention from the Board. Chairmen and Chief Executives need to appreciate that it is their responsibility to ensure that health & safety processes are followed, from the need to carry out risk assessment to the need to wear hard hats.

  The final point, relating to Directors' health and safety duties and whether these are effectively covered by voluntary guidance, will only be appropriately covered if the Institute of Directors is recognised as being the representative body for company directors, in all their guises. Potentially, the voluntary guidance could have had a greater impact if it had been produced with wider input from other organisations that have direct experience of the construction industry, for example, the CBI, Construction Client Group, BERR, and so on.

4.4  Does the HSE have sufficient resources to fulfil its objectives as the health and safety regulator and meet its PSA targets? Does the HSE allocate its budget efficiently? Are there areas of HSE's operations that require additional investment?

  It is clear from anecdotal evidence from HSE inspectors working on site and from the number that are seen to be leaving the HSE, that resources are being squeezed.

  The role of the HSE is to ensure that all employers who are exploiting the health, safety and welfare of their staff should be pursued through the courts. However, the total number of cases being taken to court by the HSE has dropped in recent years, although there is evidence that the proportion of construction cases remains high. The number of fatalities in the construction industry also remains high, so clearly there is an issue that needs to be addressed.

  It is difficult for us to judge whether the HSE's budget is efficiently allocated or whether they require more funding in some areas. However, the HSE should be looking to work collaboratively with others partners in industry to widen its reach. In the past ConstructionSkills has discussed with the HSE projects such as the joint production of Health & Safety publications which would create a benefit for both the HSE, in terms of income, and for ConstructionSkills, in terms of providing services and information to industry. ConstructionSkills would be keen to develop this relationship with the HSE to help take a lead in setting standards that go beyond merely complying with the law and the HSE's involvement will help cement such standards as the norm. It is clear that the HSE inspectors on the ground do not feel sufficiently empowered to look at innovative solutions as suggested above.

  An example of such a solution would be for the HSE, as the industry's regulator and enforcer, to work more closely with ConstructionSkills, as the industry's educator and trainer, to jointly consider training courses and publications. All construction based HSE publications could be developed and produced through ConstructionSkills, with subsequent increased market penetration, particularly with the difficult to reach areas of industry, such as SMEs, and overall reduction in cost for the Treasury.

4.5  Inspection, enforcement and prosecutions: What impact has the reduction in inspection rates had on standards of occupational health and safety?

  In the small part of industry that does not respect the law, this has had a negative impact. This has also given voice to the thought that the HSE are no longer interested in pursuing cases through the courts, partly due to the cost of doing so.

  When compared to the size of the industry, the rate of inspection was always low; it is now a bit lower. However, the industry should not be depending upon the HSE to ensure that it behaves itself.

4.6  Does the HSE get the balance right between prevention and enforcement?

  Only in the recent past has there been an improvement within the HSE of engaging with industry in preventative action. As outlined above, there is considerable scope for the HSE to work more collaboratively with organisations such as ConstructionSkills to help set standards and improve the competence of the industry. This would potentially free up HSE resources to deal with the enforcement elements, which only it can do.

4.7  Are penalties for health and safety offences proportionate?

  No; when comparing the penalties for employees stealing from their employer with the penalties for employers being responsible for the death or serious injury of an employee, the penalties are not proportionate.

4.8  How effectively do HSE and local authorities interact in their inspection roles?

  A suggestion that may help improve the efficiency and effectiveness of health & safety at Local Authority level would be to extend the power and remit of the Building Control Officers. They currently have extensive interaction with SMEs operating in the domestic market (eg house extensions) where their role is to check compliance with building regulations. They do not, however, inspect domestic work for health & safety compliance and this is an opportunity to expand their remit with limited resource implications. It is in this area that there is the opportunity for a significant penetration into a largely untouched, and therefore unregulated in terms of health & safety, area of the construction industry.

4.9  Migrant workers: Are migrant workers more at risk of occupational accidents?

  There is no evidence that migrant workers are involved in fatal accidents any more than UK workers. From experience it is clear that the majority of migrant workers who work in the established, commercial UK construction industry are highly skilled with a robust technical knowledge. Highly skilled workers tend to demonstrate better on-site behaviours more generally, and this includes health and safety best practice.

  There is a risk that a worker who can not speak or read English would be at increased risk on site through poor communication and there is a need for research and the development of tools to help employers assess the safety critical language skills of migrant workers. ConstructionSkills, working in partnership with the HSE, is currently undertaking research and subsequent related product development in this area to address this concern.

4.10  Does the HSE do enough to protect migrant workers from health and safety risks?

  The HSE provides translated materials and has undertaken limited work with ConstructionSkills on critical Health & Safety resources to ensure non-UK workers have the same materials available to them as the domestic workforce. Again, ConstructionSkills would be keen to work more collaboratively with the HSE. We have already been tasked by industry to support employers that take on migrant workers to ensure they are safe and productive, but this work, although privately it has been applauded, is not publicly endorsed by the HSE. Having the HSE work alongside the Sector Skills Council responsible for recruitment and training more closely is a logical step towards improving the industry's health & safety credentials, as well as reducing the HSE's resource burdens.

  Another point to make is that there is no officially recorded information about the nationality of any person involved in a reportable accident (as required by RIDDOR), except anecdotal evidence that often plays out in the press should a story make headlines. There is also very little reliable data about minor accidents and near misses more generally, so it is next to impossible to track these issues and spot trends.

  The Oil and Gas sector has a voluntary alert system, called Step Change in Safety, which has been developed in collaboration with major employers, HSE and contractors. ConstructionSkills is working with Step Change in Safety to develop a similar alert system for the on-shore construction sector.

4.11  Occupational Health: What must HSE do to meet its PSA targets for ill health and days lost per worker? Does HSE do enough to embed vocational rehabilitation in the workplace?

  There is certainly more discussion of occupational health in the industry, so we believe the HSE's work is having an impact. There are valuable tools available from the HSE, particularly through their website. However, promotion of key services and resources appears minimal. Again, collaboration between ConstructionSkills and the HSE to further promote and create awareness is logical step to improving this. We are aware that the HSE is working with Constructing Better Health and introducing an occupational health screening, and ConstructionSkills, along with other industry bodies will need to support this initiative.


January 2008

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